On Being a Jury Foreman, and The Zimmerman Jury.

In 1983 I was selected as Foreman, now Foreperson, of a twelve person jury in a rape case. The defendant was black and the victim white. The first vote, taken soon after reviewing the jury instructions, was 7-5  guilty. As the two days wore on, descriptions of evidence and testimony were exchanged. Every word spoken and every exhibit shown in the trial was recalled by one or several jurors. The accused took the stand and was fairly credible as he tried to convince us that the sex was consensual. The most damning evidence was a throw away comment by the defense lawyer that “although he had a case of beer to drink that day, he was not drunk at the time of the rape.”

It so happens that one of the jurors had recently attended Family Week at an alcohol rehabilitation clinic and computed the consumed alchohol. It was her view that the accused was drunk at the time of the attack, hence, his credibiltiy was doubltful. We took a vote and it was 11-1.

The hold out was a school teacher. He and I had a private meeeting and he told me, “I know the accused had raped the victim but I just can’t send him to prison.” I told him, “you are simply finding fact here. If you say he is guilty, you don’t send him to prison, the Judge does, or not.”
He then voted guilty and the verdict was announced, It later turned out that the rapist  had a prior conviction for rape and was on a release from prison.

So how does this apply to Zimmerman. The jury there is being very carefull. They have recently asked to have Manslaughter explained to them. As that is the second charge to their verdict form, I assume they have moved past second degree murder. That doesn’t mean they were unanimous on that issue, just that they couldn’t agree there. Of course, if they were unanimous on the first count, that means self defense is being applied.
There may be a hold out here who is saying “A person is dead, someone should be punished, even though the self defense defense exonerates Zimmerman.

We are all waiting for the verdict, but when it comes, remember that every iota of evidence has  been examined in great detail and the judge’s instructions followed diligently. Juries are  amazing fact finders, I sort of wish there were twelve of them in this case, however.

The George Zimmerman Trial

I have been consumed by testimony  and legal maneuvering that occured, and continues to occur, in the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin in Seminole County, Florida. First reactions are often the most accurate and when the event first occured, the Sheriff declined to charge a crime in the matter, indicating that he believed Zimmerman’s actions were defensible as self defense. This was based on the evidence that Zimmerman had been badly beaten up by Martin and had bleeding wounds on his head and face and a broken nose. These are signs of a violent attack. The case then turned bizarre. If both parties were the same race or one white and the other hispanic, nothing more would have been heard of this terrible event, but Trayvon Martin is black, hence the matter was turned into a black/white matter. The problem was that Zimmerman is Hispanic so the media started to describe him as a “white Hispanic.”  The ethnic distinctions then made, the media and government took over.

The government  that took over was the Department of Justice that started putting pressure on the Sheriff to charge the case as murder. The Sheriff resigned but his replacement relented and did charge the case as murder, and forty some days after the event, Zimmerman was arrested and a trial scheduled.

Aside from the lamentable death of the young man, the biggest harm this case is doing to America is the stoking of racial animus when we are really trying to rid ourselves of this legacy. Simply stated, this case is described as a white, albeit Hispanic man, killing a black man and punishment was demanded.

The trial has developed many angles, including the ludicrous claim that Martin was such a good guy that he didn’t even steal the Skittles he had with him. The Judge did not allow contrary evidence. The single issue, however, and cases often come down to a singe issue, is whether Martin had a reasonable belief that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm. This would mean he had a defense to second degree murder, or manslaughter, a recently introduced charge that the Judge allowed the prosecution to introduce after it had realized it had over-charged the case. The evidence shows his wounds, and eye witness testimony said that Martin was on top of the supine Zimmerman, beating him with a flury of blows to his face and, as the evidence shows, slamming his head into the concrete pavement which resulted in lacerations in the back of the head. As we have learned from the concussion studies in football, it is the blow to the head that causes the damage not the superficial marks left by the blow. 

The case is in its final day of trial with the Defense making its closing argument at this time. The Judge will then give the jury instructions as to the legal standards they will use in deciding the case. The standards require that the findings be beyond reasonable doubt. If there is doubt, therefore, they must acquit. We all remember Johnny Cochrane  in the OJ Simpson case saying, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”  The decision will turn on whether there is this reasonable doubt as determined by the the six member jury.

Juries are and have been since Anglo-Saxon days the final judge of the facts in a case. It is my hope that this jury, like countless juries before them, make the right call. I have heard some of the evidence, but not all of it, and have not heard the closing arguments, nor have I been present to hear testimony and judge credibillty of witnesses, one of a juries primary functions and one they do very well.  I defer to the juries’ superior knowledge of the facts and will support the verdict as properly decided.

At sometime soon, a verdict will be given and I pray that once the jury has spoken, America accepts the verdict whichever way it goes. It is the way we settle cases in a civilized country and we need to heal the animus this case has engendered.